Money is never just money.
Money is feelings.
Money is fear or worry or failure or shame. It’s hope or excitement or success or freedom.
It’s a currency that we use to communicate things.
How much you spend on a gift reflects how much you love someone.
How much you spend on a wedding reflects your standing in the world.
How much you spend on a car reflects how successful you think you are.
It shouldn’t, but it can.
Money is never just money.
It’s wrapped up with how you feel about yourself and your worth and your future and your past.
I wonder if that’s why women have a complex relationship with it. We are often in our feelings.
It’s why opening our banking app is rarely a neutral experience. It’s not like checking the bus timetable. We open that app and we feel things.
We hope there’s enough money in there. Or we feel happy there’s more than expected. Or we feel satisfied with our savings. Or we feel disappointed with our spending habits. Or we feel ashamed that we aren’t where we think we should be.
How did you feel last time you thought about money?
Was it this morning, when your inbox had a bunch of emails about the new season collections from a bunch of stores? Did you feel desire? FOMO? Annoyance?
Was it last night, when you had to pay some bills for super boring stuff? Did you feel annoyed about the pain of adulting?
Was it yesterday, when your kid’s school told you about the next thing you have to pay for (excursions, costumes, sports, devices)? Did you feel exhausted?
I think it’s useful for all of us to identify and unpack some of the emotions behind our finances. My hunch is that many of them are negative. And is there any better way to turn your emotions around than to feel them, speak about them, hold them up to the light?
How about I tell you some of my feelings, and you can think about yours.
If I had to pick two words that I associate with money it would be: fear and safety.
The fear is about not having enough to do the things I want, to live the way I want. I don’t really know where it comes from. Maybe my family. My dad was a successful lawyer with a tendency towards impostor syndrome. He was always looking at the downside and planning for it. (What if he lost his job etc.)
Maybe I picked up some of this; maybe I was just born with it. Either way, I’m scared of not having money, but on the other side of fear is safety, and that’s what I aim for.
I would much prefer to have money in the bank and a good income, so I can plan against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. My ex used to accuse me of being obsessed with insurance; I’d argue there are worse thing to be obsessed with. But he’s not wrong.
I’m not saying this is the only feeling I have about money, but it’s kind of the bedrock to everything else. I prefer not to buy expensive things for the sake of it, because that money could be better used to shore up my safety barrier. It also means I experience guilt when I do spend, because I feel like I’m chipping away at that barrier. Guilt is a default setting with me though, so it’s not that big of a deal, and I do still spend money on shit (hello new Mecca palette!).
Overall, this emotional relationship to money has worked well for me. I was able to leave a marriage and land on my feet, financially, because of the decisions I’d made. I have a manageable mortgage and an old car, because I have distaste for debt. It means I can take some career and income risks at this stage, because I’m not a slave to a giant black hole of home loan and car debt.
Sit down and check in
I encourage you to think about how you feel towards money. I see a lot of people, especially women, feel shame about it.
They’re ashamed because they don’t feel in control, think they spend too much, or don’t know enough about it. They think it’s somehow their fault – when in fact society has done literally everything possible to make them feel like this – from not socialising us to discuss money, through to telling us we are ugly and fat if we don’t buy products to fix ourselves.
So please, sit down in a quiet moment and list your emotions about money.
See if you can unpack them a little. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Are they serving you well? Or are they holding you back?
The good thing about feelings is we aren’t just stuck with them. We can always change them, with some work. Time to have a long chat with money … and show it who’s boss.